Op-ed: Colombia Is Our Movement in Motion

Student Kristen Thompson found a Colombia that is making legal advances but still needs cultural change.

BY Kristen Thompson

August 24 2012 4:00 AM ET

Bogotá Pride

The Colombian Congress has been very resistant to passing any legislation to advance LGBT equality. What the Colombian LGBT movement has gained so far in terms of recognition of rights has been through hard-fought legal battles in the Constitutional Court, with conservative elements pushing back every step of the way.

Since 2007 the Constitutional Court has significantly expanded the legal framework of rights for LGBT individuals. It granted equal rights to same-sex couples, including property and health coverage rights, and survivor pension benefits. Last year the court recognized the right of same-sex couples to form a family. While these advances are cause for celebration, Colombian activists recognize that legal advances only go so far in altering the lived experiences of LGBT people. It’s activists and everyday people who are changing the culture.

While in Colombia, I also participated in a more joyous Colombian LGBT activity: I was a trumpet player in Toque Lésbico, a lesbian drumming group in the 2012 LGBT Community March in Bogotá.The 16th annual LGBT Community March in Bogotá brought together an estimated 20,000 people to protest discrimination against youth in public spaces, and particularly the mistreatment of youth in schools based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The theme of the march, “No to School Bullying, No More Abuse,” is a topic of growing concern as studies reveal a high prevalence of bullying in schools. Tragically, bullying in the form of verbal and physical violence and discrimination extends far beyond the school grounds for Colombian LGBT people and into the arenas of employment, health, criminal justice, and political participation.

Colombian activists like Marcela Sánchez are working every day to change that. “The march is a space of reclaiming rights,” said Sánchez, founder and executive director of Colombia Diversa. “It’s a space for happiness and a ‘carnaval’ of visibility.” Impressively, she has been a part of the LGBT struggle for visibility and rights for decades, from the very first Bogotá pride march in 1996 where she was one of 30 people who hit the streets in rollerskates.

This year the scene was much different. In true Latin parade style, the dividing line between participant and spectator was nonexistent, as people flooded the streets and marched southward through the city in a celebratory, diverse, rainbow-colored current. Marcela takes pride in this remarkable growth of visibility in the LGBT movement in Colombia but notes that the path to change has been tortuous.

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